Diabolical Plan Rattles the Group!

With an understanding of and an abiding faith in the USGA Handicap System, we have permitted participants in our games to play from any rated set of tees. We have adjusted handicaps accordingly as stipulated by the USGA Handicap System. With literally thousands of rounds of golf to analyze, I can say the Handicap System works. It has its flaws, but by-and-large, it does the job of leveling the playing field as it was intended.

With the said, let’s look at what we did yesterday. Unlike in nearly all of our matches where the arbitrary selection of the “base tees” is the forward men’s tees, yesterday’s chosen base tees were the tips, i.e., the championship tees (Black) on the Padre course. The end result was that anyone moving forward (and everyone did) actually had to give up strokes. For example, Mike Clifton elected to play the forward tees (Yellow). He actually had to give up five strokes to the field. So instead of a course handicap of 20, he had to play with a course handicap of 15. Everyone else in the field also gave up strokes by moving forward. You can see in the images below exactly how many strokes everyone had to yield by comparing the “Hdcp” columns in the two images.

As Played (Black)
Handicaps with the Black tees as base tees
Play yellow base
Handicaps with the Yellow (forward) tees as base tees

When I made the announcement that the “Black” tees would be the base tees, I wrote I did so “… just to cause trouble.” Well, what do you know? It worked. People fretted over which tees to play. “I can’t afford to give up five strokes,” some said. The psychological piece of the pie was a real show stopper. It’s funny to see how traumatic it was to “give back” something, but that it’s never a concern when the base tees are designated as the forward tees. You’re giving up five strokes by NOT moving back to the tips, but that’s not a big deal, presumably because you never had them in the first place.

Truth be known, it really doesn’t make much of difference what your handicap is as long as it is set to a number that reflects your scoring ability relative to the rest of the field. If you’re playing against Bubba and you’re two strokes better than Bubba, you can play scratch and give Bubba two pops or you can claim a handicap of 30 as long as you give Bubba a 32. As further evidence of all this sleight-of-hand, the images that follow show the match results from yesterday with the “Black” tees set as the base tees. Below that, the image shows the match results as they would have been with the “Yellow” tees set as the base tees.  Not much different!

Results as played
Match results – Black tees as base
Results (Yellow base)
Results with Yellow tees as base


There is some impact on the prize money in the area of skins. Those who move back may find it a little more difficult to win gross skins. You might be adding thirty or forty yards to your tee shot on some holes. There a good chance that birdies will be a little more elusive when you’re playing another 500 or so yards of golf course. Note that there were four gross skins awarded yesterday, but there would have been five if the yellow tees had been the base set.

A couple other comments are in order lest this diatribe run off the rails. This leveling of the playing field occurs if and only if the following conditions are met

  1. The course rating and slope are property determined,
  2. The course is setup as it was rated,
  3. Player handicaps are “honest” in that they truly represent the player’s ability.

In reality, picking your tee set can give you a slight edge or put you at a slight disadvantage. A thousand-and-one considerations come into play in selecting your best tees. If you’re not a good trap player, pick the tees that take the traps out of play from the tee box. If there’s a strong wind blowing, the shorter course means you’re ball will spend less time in the air being blown around by the wind. There are other examples, but you get the drift.

Also realize that a significant component of a course rating is its length. As a general rule, the course rating increases by one full stroke for every 220 yards of length. If your average drive is 240 yards or longer, you’re basically getting a little extra bonus relative to the course rating and your handicap. Play the longer tees. On the other hand, if you typically hit your drives 190 yards, playing the shorter course is to your advantage from a handicap (not to mention pace-of-play) standpoint. Move it forward.

Golf Erotica for Mathematicians

Math chalkboardI recently received an email from one of our golfers asking for an explanation of the “Odds” column on the Gross Score Report found at the bottom of the “Match Sign-Ups” page on this site. It dawned on me that others may have that same question. What follows is a copy of my response to the email.

If you have something important to do, like watch your grass grow or look for dust bunnies under your couch, skip everything in black below and go directly to the answer in red at the bottom of this diatribe. Either way, let me know if you have any other questions. Cheers.

What time is it, you ask? Let me tell you how to build a watch!

Years ago, the number crunchers at the U.S.G.A. analyzed (I presume) a couple million rounds of golf. They built a chart showing the probabilities that someone with a given handicap index would shoot a particular gross score on a golf course with a specified rating and slope. That chart was published in the USGA magazine and a variety of other places. When I saw it, I was enraptured. (Mathematicians and engineers like me are frequently aroused by statistical challenges. Yes, we’re a strange lot.)

When I saw the chart, I was driven to analyze the data in much greater detail. I called the USGA and spoke with someone in the appropriate department. I asked if they would share the raw data with me. The guy was aghast. “We don’t share our data with the public” he responded with arrogant contempt dripping from his voice. When I told him I wasn’t “the public” that I was in fact a USGA member, he was almost as impressed as if I had told him I was owned a pencil and knew how to use it. He wouldn’t budge. I’ve always been of the ilk that the only challenges worth pursuing are those that aren’t supposed to be possible. The guy just made me more determined than ever.

I set about the task of mapping all the data points from the chart that I thought necessary to accomplish the task. I then performed a nonlinear multiple regression analysis on all the manufactured data. I developed the following formula:
With that formula, I can produce a reasonably reliable estimate of the probability of a person shooting a given score.

Since I developed this tool, I have entered many tens of thousands of rounds of golf into my personal database. The formula has proven to be quite accurate when applied to my database, so the snooty dude at the USGA can go suck on his own database.

Needless to say, my formula – like the USGA predictor – is contingent upon a number of assumptions that suggest stasis, i.e., the golfer isn’t in the midst of a series of lessons, hasn’t had his legs cut off and the course is properly rated. Nonetheless, it provides an interesting metric that’s useful in a number of ways, some not terribly obvious. Think about using it as a tool for the handicap police to root out cheaters and sandbaggers.

So, in answer to your question … the “Odds” column reflects the probability that the golfer will shoot the score that was turned in. If the number appears in brackets, it means the number is actually the inverse of the probability, i.e. less than even odds.

Skins and the Quest for Fairness

GolfSkinsEveryone agrees playing a skins game is great fun as long as you win one. Others say it’s not nearly as fair when you’re not collecting a portion of the prize money. The issue of “fairness” is rarely broached by those collecting money, but often questioned by the empty handed competitors. Let’s take a look at the mechanics of “skins games”, especially as played with our regular group at Camelback Golf Club.

In its purest form, a skin is earned when one player singlehandedly scores the lowest gross score of all other competitors on any given hole. A variation on the theme calls for “carry-overs” where any previous holes not yielding a skin go to the first person to win a skin. If everyone shoots a gross par on the first hole and someone earns a skin on the second hole, he wins two skins, one for the current hole and one for the unclaimed skin on the previous hole. This approach to skins is great as long as all players are scratch or even of equal abilities. Personally, I believe it would be fair to play only gross skins, but only in cases where all of my competitors have handicaps higher than mine. So much for that idea. It’s not going to happen except in a blue moon.

Harbour frustratedThe USGA comes to the rescue with the Handicap System. Handicaps level the playing field, don’t they? Unfortunately, in a skins game where all the players get their handicap strokes where they fall on the scorecard, it doesn’t level the playing field. From a statistical standpoint, high handicap players have much better odds of scoring a net eagle than do low handicap players. If all groups played strictly “net skins”, the higher handicap players would haul a disproportionate share of winnings home. Instead of the high handicappers grumbling with gross skins, the low handicappers will be grumbling.

A common “solution” is to play both gross and net skins games. This calls for a leap of faith where the inequities of the two formats neutralize each other and true fairness is attained. If you believe that’s true, knock yourself out, but I’m not in. The inequities persist especially when a high handicap player runs in that long putt and wins both a net skin and a gross skin on the same hole.

In some cases, groups will play separate gross and net skins games and make participation optional. That may be a step closer to “fair”, but complicates the accounting dramatically. In some cases, one format is optional while the other is mandatory. The end result is there’s one patently unfair game played for higher stakes, while the other game offers lower payouts when those at a disadvantage opt out.Allison frustrated

Within our group, we have attempted to equalize the competition by making participation a requirement to playing in the day-game. We’ve done this by playing what we refer to a “combined skins”. Both gross and net skins are paid, but no golfer can win both a gross and net skin on the same hole. From a statistical standpoint, we believe this is a step in the right direction. To summarize this approach, assume all competitors are playing a par four hole and everyone gets one handicap stroke on the hole. If a player wins a gross skin with a birdie, he obviously will also have claim to a net skin with a net eagle. Not so fast; you’ve won the gross. We’re not paying the net skin as well.

Here is the next move toward true equity. When playing within our group, any participant can completely opt-out of the skins game, but he must announce his intention to do so prior to the day of the competition. Once I receive the request to opt-out, the free market comes into play. I will email all other participants to advise them that one or more skins cards are up for auction. The highest bidder acquires the rights to any skins the person opting out may win. The proceeds from the auction are put into the skins pot and distributions are adjusted as may be appropriate given the new prize money balance. In the past, we have had cards sold for as little as a dollar and as much as twenty dollars when the normal player contribution to the skins pot is ten dollars.

One final twist on the way we play our skins game. For a long time, some participants have suggested we add a “validation” requirement to our game. This means that to win a skin on any given hole, the player must score a NET par or better on the following hole. To win a skin on the eighteenth hole, validation becomes dependent upon the results from the first hole. I have analyzed the results from the past 500 or so rounds of golf to see what impact validation has on our games. Here’s what I’ve found.

  • The number of skins earned is reduced by between 25% and 30%.
  • The size of the skins prize is thereby increased by roughly 30%.
  • The average handicap of a skins winner did not change in a statistically significant manner, i.e., validation appears to put neither high nor low handicapSummers frustrated players in an advantaged or disadvantaged position. It is “fair”.

So why play “validated” skins? You’ll know the answer well when you stand over a three foot putt that is needed to validate the skin you hope you’ll win on the previous hole. Every now and again, even the most inept of us whacks a 35 foot putt into the hole. We shout “Whoopee” while our player partner says, “Hey that could be a skin.” We go on our merry way with fingers crossed.

Now with the validation requirement, the subsequent hole takes on a whole new significance. The adrenalin begins to flow and the excitement level is definitely ratcheted up a notch. Now you’re not only competing against the field, you’re competing against yourself. You’re thinking a little more. Strategy calls for your attention. The competitive juices are flowing and you’re playing golf the way it is meant to be played. Validate and you feel good. Fail and you kick yourself down the path. But there’s always the next match.

One for You Number Junkies

I can’t help myself. Statistics have intrigued me since I was a little kid. I read Darrell Huff’s “How to Lie with Statistics” when I was in the fourth grade. I was calculating the “Earned Run Averages” of baseball pitchers when I was in the third grade. Statistics are my drug of choice. What are the odds?

Stats overallWednesday’s golf match on the Ambiente course was played under the agitated hand of Mother Nature. Winds for most of the competition hovered around ten knots and gusted to twenty for most of the day. For the most part, winds were at our backs for the first ten holes then spit in our faces for the last seven. As expected, some of the players chanted the mantra of how difficult it was to score with the wind whistling as it did. However, I observed no instance where the wind blew only as one particular player put his ball on the tee and stopped when another prepared to tee off. Everyone played the same course under the same conditions. In other words, it was a fair match.

But for the number junkies, it was an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the wind. So like a kid in a candy store, I dug in. Here’s what I found after analyzing 2,606 rounds of golf played from the Camel tees of the Ambiente golf course.

  • Under “normal” circumstances, the back nine on Ambiente plays about a tenth of the stroke easier than the front side. That’s probably not terribly significant statistically – call it even.


  • With ten knot winds like we had Wednesday, scores were relatively unaffected when the wind was at our back. You no doubt got a little distance boost, but shot making was complicated by the need to estimate the effective distance. Everything seemed to work itself out with (if anything) a slight increase in difficulty.


  • When the wind was in our faces, we still suffered the same complication of estimating correct distances, however, that problem was compounded by the loss of distance when hitting into a headwind. The end result is the back nine played a little over one full stroke harder than the front side. Little slices were big slices; little hooks were big hooks. The back nine played at least one full stroke more difficult than did the front.


  • The biggest positive impact on scores when the wind was at our back came on the par five holes. The biggest negative impact appeared on the shortest holes. Yes, with these observations, it’s clear I have a keen sense of the obvious.


  • With the wind in our face, the reverse was true, i.e., longer holes issued greater punishments, another revelation of the obvious kind.


What can we learn from all this? It’s harder to play in the wind!

Upon closer scrutiny, there probably are some little tidbits that can be extracted from the data that will give you a competitive edge. But in the final analysis, it will undoubtedly amount to the following adage; “smart golf” carries a premium under adverse conditions. You might want to give a little more consideration to club selection. “Grip it and rip it” is NOT necessarily the best advice for windy days.

With all that said, here are a couple of quotes to put in your quiver for defense against number junkies.

“There are three kinds of untruths: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Torture numbers enough and they will confess to anything.”

“Four out of three people have trouble with fractions.”

Finally, one more statistic that conclusively proves it is well within the realm of possibility to play well in high winds. Observe the scorecard. Then congratulate Dr. Bill Yarbrough.

Yarbrough Ace

Lateral Hazards – A Footnote

Santa golfingThe previous post (Camelback Golfers – Read This or Else; December 14, 2017), has generated far more “interest” than I had anticipated. Almost every response came to me in private rather than as a comment on this blog. After reviewing the responses, I can assure you that we not only have some good golfers in the group, we’ve also got some golfers that carry a sense of humor that can be used like a scalpel to surgically extract the essence of a situation and describe it in a fashion that make my sides hurt from laughter. I can’t share all the comments because they were sent in private. However, I will give the award for best humor to Dr. John Raines. Barbara must spend half her time doubled over in laughter.

I will share one comment and my response to it without mentioning any names (not even my own). One golfer said:

I assume you believe there are those that fudge?

Here’s my response.

“Three answers …

OFFICIAL ANSWER: I’ve had a number of [fill in tactful word for ‘complaints’] about those who (given the benefit of the doubt) don’t fully understand the rules surrounding lateral hazards. As a leader of the pack, I’m obligated to ‘educate’ new and old members alike. (Also, as Handicap Chair, I’m obliged to ‘educate’). Also, as the one with the media outlet (sounds more official than ‘blog’), I have the means to educate. Without exception, no one that complained mentioned any names.

NON-OFFICIAL ANSWER: Hell yes, there are those who fudge. If we were playing for Pokémon cards, most people wouldn’t care. However, money’s changing hands and ‘fudging’ shouldn’t impact that flow. Some people also point out that even if it doesn’t impact the money game, it tends to give the fudgers indefensibly low handicaps. They fear getting stuck with the vanity handicappers as a partner in a match or tournament.


When dealing with lateral hazards, there are frequently going to be judgment calls, especially on the question of “point of entry”. There is no section in the rule book concerning how to make a judgment. I think you learn that as a kid, maybe before. For example, I have seen many times where someone tees off on #8 Padre. The ball clears that water, but just barely. It lands in the grass and rolls back into the hazard. Does the golfer invoke the “two clubs from point of entry, no closer to the hole rule”? Or does he return to the “drop area” thus sacrificing twenty or thirty yards. It depends on whether the ball landed in the hazard or out of the hazard and rolled back in. Here’s the rub; the hazard ISN’T defined as the water. There’s usually a red line of demarcation on the other side of the pond. The ball often lands dry, but in the hazard. If so, back to the drop area. If it lands just past the red line, you can play much closer to the pin. Your call. The kicker is that from 175 yards, it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise landing spot, especially when comparing it to a red chalk line that has been largely eradicated from rain and the freshly grown grass. That call is further complicated by the fact that you’re bent over in a golfer’s curse pose vehemently bitching about the yardage on the cart GPS being wrong.

Nonetheless, it’s a judgment call. Do your best. As a suggestion in keeping with the season, consider the following:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows when you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Camelback Golfers – READ THIS OR ELSE!

GodfatherIf you continue to play golf at Camelback and you haven’t read this, a curse will be cast upon you. Your hair will fall out. (Note to those of you with sparse or no hair: In your case, a secondary curse will be administered the results of which are far too gruesome to detail in a public forum such as this.)

It has come to my attention that some golfers continue to be conflicted and/or confused by the rules governing “lateral hazards” in general and in particular, the rules as they pertain to the native grass areas at Camelback Golf Club. Please read this missive and absorb it. Inculcate it both into your conscious and subconscious minds, your ID, your EGO, your memory, your yin and your yang. Kindly understand this so thoroughly that in the event you talk in your sleep, you recite variations on this rule rather than cry out the name of someone with whom you had a love relationship in the past. In that regard, having a thorough grasp of this rule may not only save you penalty strokes on the golf course, it could also save your relationship at home.

ALL NATIVE GRASS AREAS ON THE AMBIENTE COURSE ARE DEEMED “LATERAL HAZARDS”. There are certain God given or natural laws of nature that apply to lateral hazards. Some for your bemusement are:

  1. Your ball is in the hazard AT THE LAST POINT OF ENTRY. It doesn’t matter if your ball is 700 feet in the air, the point of entry is that point where a vertical line straight down from your ball crosses the line of the hazard.
  2. Assuming you find your ball without being bitten by a rattlesnake, ravaged by a coyote, bobcat, or member of the grounds crew, you have the same five options for your next shot that you would if you had hit your ball into a lake. Those options are …
    • Play the ball AS IT LIES.
    • Drop two clubs lengths from the LAST POINT OF ENTRY, but no closer to the hole. There is a one stroke penalty.
    • Drop a ball within two clubs lengths of a point on the opposite side of the hazard in line with the LAST POINT OF ENTRY no closer to the hole. There is a one stroke penalty.
    • Play the ball from the location of your previous shot. There is a one stroke penalty.
    • Play the ball from any point you wish on a line directly, i.e., straight back, in line with the flagstick and the LAST POINT OF ENTRY. You may legally drop the ball back 800 yards if you’re so inclined (as long as you’re still in bounds), however, this option may have to be addressed in another post relating to mental competence. There is a one stroke penalty.

Things YOU MAY NOT DO if you’re going to play your ball from within the hazard.

  1. You MAY NOT ground your club in such a fashion as to be deemed “testing the ground” or “improving your lie or swing path”. You MAY lightly brush the grass in the course of addressing or swinging as long as it is not done to remove the grass or otherwise improve your swing path.
  2. You MAY NOT touch or move any loose impediments in your swing path or the path of the ball. You MAY NOT move rocks or native vegetation. “I paid two hundred dollars for this club” is not a statement that grants a waiver of the rules. You MAY move unnatural loose impediments such as those that are human caused. For example, you may move an empty beer can that impedes your swing. In fact, if the can isn’t empty, you may drink the contents before and/or after the swing. It may even help. You MAY move or take relief from waste or construction debris that is clearly man made. For example, you can take relief from a pile of mesquite slash having been cut and left for pickup. You may also get relief into the mesquite as long as you are not visible from any residence or by any other golfers on the course. The penalty for such relief is self-inflicted; remember, mesquite thorns are extremely sharp. If you get too close, you will come away with a much greater appreciation for the term “slash”.
  3. You MAY NOT lift your ball to identify it if it is clearly identifiable without lifting. If in doubt, your playing opponent usually has a pretty good eye for spotting your markings. If the ball does have to be lifted, make sure it is returned to the same place it was before the heist.
  4. You MAY NOT take a drop out of the hazard on a line running laterally from the point at which the ball came to rest. This technique is referred to a “desert rules” and is NOT the legal or proper way to take relief. The technique is also referred to a cheating, even if done with the noblest of intentions.

Now that I have hopefully made it clear how to proceed on those rare occasions when your ball unfairly, unjustly and no doubt in defiance of the physical laws of the universe makes its way into a “native grass lateral hazard”, let me take a little extra time to clarify the term “native grass area”.

On the Ambiente course, we have the following eight areas: teeing grounds, putting greens, sand traps, fairways, the rough (you know – those areas that look like the fairway, but aren’t cut nearly as close to the ground), lakes, cart paths and “OTHER AREAS”. If you’re not in one of the first seven, you’re in a “native grass area”. Native grass areas typically have native grasses in them, and sometimes flowers. They also have snakes, mice, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, and raptors, but to keep things simple, we’ll not refer to them as native animal areas; we’ll stick with native grass areas.

Here are a couple of the biggest sources of confusion when it comes to native grass areas. In the event that the following “interpretations” appear to violate the rules or spirit of the game as you may know them, consider them “sub-local” rules for our group only (unless the Club adopts them). They are hereby declared “the rules” as set by the Tournament Committee (me) and Chair of the Handicap Committee (also me).

  1. If a cart path runs adjacent to a native grass area and your ball comes to rest on the cart path or sufficiently close to the edge of the cart path as to cause you to risk injury or club damage, you MAY take relief on the non-hazard side of the cart path – EVEN IF YOUR BALL COMES TO REST CLEARLY ON THE HAZARD SIDE OF THE CART PATH.
  2. If a cart path runs through a native grass area, i.e., native grass areas exist on both sides of the cart path where your ball comes to rest, you may take free relief, however the drop must be made IN THE HAZARD. You must drop within one club length of the point of nearest relief from the cart path. Note this is a “local rule for our group only” and is in opposition to the official USGA position on this question. The USGA says you get NO RELIEF in such situations; you play the ball where it lies – even if it’s on the cart path. You still have all the options available for relief from a lateral hazard, however, it’ll cost you one stroke.

One final (famous last words) comment on the native grass question. If you’re playing golf on the Padre course and you’re ball comes to rest in a native grass area on the Ambiente course, e.g., behind the #12 green, these rules still apply.

I sincerely hope these clarifications make play easier, less stressful and faster. If I’ve missed anything or you have any further questions or comments, hit the comment button and let’er rip!

Also be aware that if any interpretation remains nebulous or ambiguous, resort to “Jones Rule #138”, i.e., all rule interpretations shall be made in a manner that favors the author and his team.

A Few Rules for Faster Play

Have you ever noticed that golfers tend to hate the group in front of them? It’s because that group is holding them up, at least in their minds. Real or imagined, slow golf sucks. If the group in front of you truly is holding you up, there’s no need to worry about the nuances of fast play. But if you’re the hold up, consider picking it up a bit. Here is a partial list of “rules” that if adhered to, will make the game proceed faster and everyone will be happier.


  1. DON’T PIDDLE! If you have already hit your shot and you are the only person still within range of the group behind you, DO NOT piddle with your clubs. DO NOT clean your club. DO NOT put its head-cover on. Get in the cart and move on. Believe it or not, the cart will operate properly while someone is holding a club. In fact, if you’re the passenger, you can clean your club and replace the head-cover while the cart is moving. When the cart comes to a stop, you can then put your now shiny club back into the bag.


  1. BE REALISTIC ON YARDAGE. Believe it or not, most golfers have the experience and knowledge to make a pretty good guess as to the distance from tee to pin when pulling up to the tee box. DO NOT casually mosey on up to the tee box, range finder in hand intent on reconnoitering the terrain. DO NOT lose sleep over whether or not the hole is 152 yards rather than 154 yards, especially when you hit your seven iron 150 plus or minus 20 yards. If you think that plus or minus two yards is going to make a difference, ask you caddie for his opinion. You obviously have one because you must be on the PGA Tour if you’re truly that precise in your shot making. Otherwise, increase the dosage on your medications for delusions of grandeur.


  1. MULTI-TASK. You see it all the time. Someone strolls up to the tee box, rangefinder in hand, but devoid of clubs. After taking readings worthy of a professional surveyor, the golfer now saunters back to the cart to select a club. Two heads may be better than one, but two trips take considerably more time. When you pull up to the tee box, you are given a number of clues. For example, the scorecard shows the yardage. The USGA approved stone monument in the ground generally has the yardage on it. A placard is frequently mounted on the ball washer or some other handy device. You may have played the hole the day before and can probably assume they haven’t added an additional two hundred yards to the hole. You can even go to the extreme and look at the pin and estimate its distance. Stunningly, humans can be pretty accurate in these situations. Now, take a club with you to the tee box! If you’re in doubt, take two clubs. In the worst case, take three – one longer, one shorter and your best guess. This applies to par three holes and to fairway approach shots. One trip is easier and faster than two or three.


  1. AVOID THE DRINK CART unless the course is backed up. If you’ve got an open hole in front of you and you stop at the cart, the beers you’re buying better be for the group behind you as a peace offering. Otherwise, wave them through or skip the libations.


  1. ABANDON RITUAL or at least cut down on it. Ritual has played a key role in people’s lives for eons. From religion to the Elks Lodge, ritual has played a part. Some golfers engage in more ritual before striking the ball than an exorcist expunging the demons … and with about as much success. Some of the observed ritual defies explanation.

I have seen (as have you) players who go through a full address and practice swing while facing the opposite direction from the hole. They already squandered twice as much time as a “fast” golfer before they even face the hole! Then some golfers not only push the limits of sanity, they blow through them at full throttle. Some stand behind the ball and extend their club pointing at the hole as if the club will somehow observe and learn the proper direction and whisper it to the ball at impact. One player I know actually “plumb-bobs” the hole. That’s not uncommon when you’re on the green, but when you’re 500 yards distant on the tee box, the meritorious effects of this action may be hard to discern. With all this, we haven’t yet even taken a stance!

We’re now fifteen seconds into the ritual since the tee was placed in the ground. (Note that “fast” golfers have generally teed it up, taken their stances, and made their swings in less than ten seconds.) It’s time to take a stance. Meticulous attention is made to the proper stance while the collective thoughts of the others in the group are focused on “ … finally, the S.O.B. is going to take a swing and we can play on.” Wrong! The stance now taken is solely for the purpose of taking one or two or three deliberate practice swings, none of which approximate the path, tempo or timing of the ultimate swing – should it ever come.

Finally, we can move up to the ball and take a stance. Signs of industry. Something might now happen.  All the years of practice, the lessons, the study, Golf Magazine and Golf Digest subscriptions, and the viewing of PGA tournaments on the television are finally about to coalesce in one elegant swing timed to perfection with a tempo that would make Bach swoon. But wait … there’s more.  Lay the shaft of the club across your thighs and make certain it still points to the hole. That’s certainly not out of the question given the amount of time that’s been diddled away getting to this point of near euphoria. Ah ha! The club points a half degree to the left. Good thing you checked. Now move one thigh forward or back; don’t move your feet. That’s because the one thing that doesn’t change during your swing is your legs. The feet could go anywhere.

Alright, get ready to swing. Oh, one last thing. Run through your metal checklist. Inside out? Check. Strengthen the grip? Check. Head steady? Check. Don’t over-swing? Check. Tempo, tempo, tempo. The swing’s a pendulum. Check. Lead with the left side? Check. Square the club face? Check. Pivot rather than sway? Check. Stand upright? Check. Attend to the rest of the checklist (see the diagram above for a partial list).

The only problem now is that you’ve been standing over the ball so damn long, you’re beginning to tremble as your muscles have become the area’s largest producer of lactic acid. You’ve forgotten which items on your list you omitted and which you checked twice. Subconsciously, you realize you only have room for one swing thought at a time while you have fifty-two of them on your list. At least one member of your group has dialed “9-1-1” while another is unwrapping the paddles of his portable defibrillator assuming you’ve died or at the very least, are in the midst of a grand mal seizure.

Finally, your body breaks loose from you muddled mind and takes it upon itself to execute some semblance of a golf swing. Those nearby who have not yet fallen asleep or gone to the clubhouse for a beer watch and now understand what David Feherty meant when he said, “His swing looks like an octopus falling from a tree.”

You’ve been on the tee box long enough to stake a legitimate “squatter’s rights” claim for title to the land. You’ve become subject to the “paralysis by analysis” demon and the only things you can utter after such lengthy preparation are pithy expressions like, “Oh shit!” and “Fore!”

If you take three practice swings before your ninety-five recordable swings, you have in effect played four rounds of golf. Is it any wonder you tend to fade at the end of the round?

Fast players typically take eight to ten seconds to tee it up and hit it. If you’re over fifteen seconds, you’re pushing it. If you’re over twenty seconds, you are a slow player. I have seen players exceed thirty seconds tee to take-off. That is grounds for homicide of the “justifiable” variety.

One final observation on this one – Have you ever noticed slow players rarely think they’re slow?

If the ritual becomes excessive, the results are generally not commensurate with the pre-swing efforts. Consider throwing an extra ten in the collection plate if you’re a church goer. Then you can just walk up to the ball, glance at the green, and swing!